The Good Childhood Report 2018

Since 2005, The Children’s Society has been working in partnership with the University of York to build up a picture of children’s wellbeing in the UK. The work aims to understand the factors that contribute to how children feel about their lives, and provide recommendations for policy makers to improve the wellbeing of children. Now in its seventh year, The Good Childhood Report describes the findings of research conducted by The Children’s Society and the University of York, with the most recent report, based on longitudinal data, published in August.

An overview of the findings from the sixth wave of the Millennium Cohort Study (MSC), with data collected when children were around the age of 14 years, is presented below. The MSC is a survey of children born in the UK between 2000-2001, and follows the lives of roughly 19,000 children. The overview will focus on the relationship between wellbeing and mental health.

Key findings

Relationship between life satisfaction, depressive symptoms, and emotional and behavioural difficulties

  • A proportion of children with a low happiness in life (happiness with life as a whole), also had high levels of depression (47%), and vice-versa.
  • A small number of children who had low life satisfaction (19%), and those who had high depressive symptoms (19%), also had a high score for emotional and behavioural difficulties.
  • Boys had greater emotional and behavioural difficulties compared to girls, but girls had lower levels of wellbeing and higher symptoms of depression compared to boys.

Physical activity and truancy

  • Children with lower life satisfaction, those with higher depressive symptoms and those with higher emotional and behavioural difficulties, were less likely, compared to other children, to be physically active and were more likely to have truanted.

Self-harm

  • Of the 15% of children who responded that had self-harmed in the past year, girls were more likely than boys (22% vs. 9%) to have self-harmed.
  • Children from White, Mixed and Other ethnic groups were more likely to have self-harmed compared to children from Indian, Pakistani/Bangladeshi and Black/Black British ethnic groups.
  • Children who were attracted to the same gender, or both, were more likely to self- harm. Just under half of children surveyed (46%) had self-harmed.
  • A higher than average risk of self-harm was observed for children who were from lower-income households.
  • Children with higher levels of depressive symptoms (60%), those with low life satisfaction (48%), and those with high emotional and behavioural difficulties (30%) were more likely to self-harm, compared to children with lower levels of symptoms/difficulties.

Policy recommendations

The Children’s Society emphasised that the insights gained from the report should be used by policy makers to inform decisions about children and young people. A key recommendation included using shorter, subjective measures of wellbeing as a tool for identifying children who may need more support (e.g., in schools, in monitoring the wellbeing of looked after children).

Please click on the links to access the full and summary versions of The Good Childhood Report 2018.

About the author

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Assistant for the Office for Students postgraduate research student wellbeing project. Dr Moss is based within the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth.

Self-care for GCSE and A-Level results days

Every year, over a two-week period in August, students receive the results of their exam efforts for A-Levels and GCSEs (in 2018, these were released on the 16th and 23rd August). For many, this can be a time of great celebration and happiness, but it can also be a period of stress and anxiety.

There have been reports within the media of increases in stress and academic anxiety for students who have taken the new, adjusted GCSEs. These updated GCSEs are now assessed almost exclusively with examinations at the end of the course, and grade boundaries altered to a numeric system (9-1, similar to the old A*-G grades), adding to student pressure. A similar story has been reported for students taking their A-Levels, particularly in light of recent changes to the qualification, whereby students are assessed with end of course exams, rather than coursework and AS levels. The stress associated with exam results is also emphasised by a recent report from Childline. Last year, the charity reported a 21% increase in young people accessing Childline counselling sessions to discuss their worries over exam results, over a two-year period. For 16-18 year olds, the increase was steeper – 68% – over a two-year period.

With these reports in mind, what kind of help is available to manage this potentially stressful and anxious results period? The following online resources, which offer advice for young people, as well as parents/carers, may be useful:

Resources for young people: 

Resources for parents/carers:

About the author

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Assistant for the Office for Students postgraduate research student wellbeing project. Dr Moss is based within the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth.

Improving postgraduate research student wellbeing – the role of mental health literacy and social support

There has been recent media attention on the extent of mental health problems in undergraduate students at Universities across the UK, particularly in light of recent student suicides. Concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research students have also been highlighted.

What does the research say?

Recent evidence from Levecque, Anseel, De Beuckelaer, Van der Heyden, and Gisle (2017) highlighted that one in two PhD students experienced psychological distress, and that one in three was at risk of a common mental health problem (e.g., depression). In addition, PhD students were more likely to experience mental health problems generally, compared to other highly educated groups of individuals. In another study, higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress has been reported in PhD students, compared to individuals of a similar age (Barry, Woods, Warnecke, Stirling, & Martin, 2018).

How are mental health problems being addressed?

There is a clear need for Universities, and other relevant organisations to explore and provide practical solutions for how mental health problems can be prevented, recognised, and managed, in postgraduate research students, as well as more widely within the academic community.

Given reports of increased psychological distress in postgraduate research students, how is this being addressed?

In terms of policy, Universities UK recently developed a Step Change Framework, which recommends that Universities consider mental health across all University activities, and in doing so, promote healthy and supportive working environments. Good mental health should be everyone’s business, not just student services.

Vitae, a leading organisation for researcher development, recently made a series of recommendations for Universities, as well as other key institutions, to improve the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research students (Vitae, 2018). These recommendations emphasised that Universities should focus on the prevention, recognition, and management of mental health problems in postgraduate research students (e.g., signposting to mental health resources).

Research funding is also being made available. Earlier this year, the Office for Students and Research England awarded a portion of £1.5 million to 17 projects at a number of Universities within the UK, for supporting projects that aimed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research students .

How can the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate students be improved?

Research suggests that increasing mental health literacy (knowledge of, attitudes towards, and ability to seek care for mental health problems; Jorm, Korten, Rodgers, Jacomb, & Christensen, 2002), may increase the willingness of undergraduate students experiencing psychological distress to seek help (Gorczynski, Sims-Schouten, Hill & Wilson, 2017).  Importantly, increasing mental health literacy may provide staff members with the knowledge to respond appropriately to a disclosure of mental health problems from a student (Gulliver, Farrer, Bennett, & Griffiths, 2017). 

In addition, social support (emotional and practical support a person believes is available to them when they need it; Cohen & Syme, 1985), may reduce the risk of mental health problems and improve recovery if they develop (Leach, 2014). Social support can be improved through provision of group mentoring circles, which increases social interactions and sense of belonging (Darwin & Palmer, 2009).

Few research studies have examined methods of supporting the mental health and wellbeing in postgraduate research students specifically.

What is the postgraduate research student wellbeing project about?

The project aims to improve student wellbeing by increasing mental health literacy and social support by:

  1. Undertaking a survey of PGR students, to establish baseline data on mental health literacy, wellbeing, and perceptions of social support;
  2. Developing mental health literacy resources to underpin enhanced students and staff inductions;
  3. Establishing mentoring circles of PGR students and an experienced mentor from outside of their supervisory team;
  4. Assessing the effectiveness of the project-related interventions against baseline data.

How will we conduct our research?

 We will distribute an online postgraduate research student mental health and wellbeing survey to postgraduate research students, as well as interventions which will focus on the development of online mental health resources, supervisor training, and the development of mentoring circles.

What are the next steps for the project?

The project will officially launch with an online survey in October 2018. The survey will be available for all postgraduate research students within the University of Portsmouth and Leeds Beckett University to complete, and will be advertised at both Universities soon. The interventions will be trailled within one faculty at the University of Portsmouth from November 2018, and from October 2019, will be trailled in all other faculties within the University of Portsmouth and Leeds Beckett University. From January 2020, the results of the project will be disseminated sector wide, with support from Vitae.

How can I keep updated on the progress of the project?

Project-related updates will be posted on the MICE hub website, project-related website, and Twitter. Details are as follows:

Email: pgrwellbeing@port.ac.uk

Twitter: @PgrWellbeing

Project-related website

About the project

The postgraduate research student wellbeing project is funded by the Office for Students until January 2020. The University of Portsmouth are leading the project, and will be working closely with Leeds Beckett (partner institution), Office for Students, and Vitae (project dissemination). In addition to other co-investigators, the MICE HUB researchers involved in the project are: Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten (@DrWendySch), Dr Paul Gorczynski (@PaulGorczynski) and Dr Rachel Moss (@DrRMoss).

About the author

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Assistant for the Office for Students postgraduate research student wellbeing project. Dr Moss is based within the School of Education and Sociology at the University of Portsmouth.

References

Barry, K. M., Woods, M., Warnecke, E., Stirling, C., & Martin, A. (2018). Psychological health of doctoral candidates, study-related challenges and perceived performance. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(3), 468-483. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2018.1425979

Cohen, S. E., & Syme, S. (1985). Social support and health. Sam Diego, CA, US: Academic Press.

Darwin, A., & Palmer, E. (2009). Mentoring circles in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(2), 125-136. doi: 10.1080/07294360902725017

Gorczynski, P., Sims-Schouten, W., Hill, D., & Wilson, J. C. (2017). Examining mental health literacy, help seeking behaviours, and mental health outcomes in UK university students. The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, 12(2), 111-120. doi: doi:10.1108/JMHTEP-05-2016-0027

Gulliver, A., Farrer, L., Bennett, K., & Griffiths, K. M. (2017). University staff mental health literacy, stigma and their experience of students with mental health problems. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 1-9.

Jorm, A. F., Korten, A. E., Rodgers, B., Jacomb, P. A., & Christensen, H. (2002). Sexual orientation and mental health: results from a community survey of young and middle–aged adults. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 180(5), 423-427.

Leach, J. (2014). Improving mental health through social support: building positive and empowering relationships. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879. doi: 10.1016/j.respol.2017.02.008